Data analytics is increasingly becoming a tool for organisations to help their customers live richer, healthier and more engaged lives and not just provide a means for targeted marketing of products and services. In this short article, we look at how RunKeeper is using data analytics to improve the lives of their customers by subtly influencing their behaviour through positive reinforcement.

During the recent Gigaom Structure Data event in New York, Jason Jacobs - founder and CEO of RunKeeper was interviewed on running a data business. RunKeeper develops a mobile phone app to allow users to track their outdoor physical activity using GPS within the device. The RunKeeper application has had just under 30 million downloads to date and has allowed users to collectively record over half a billion activities. Given the size of their data pool which covers gender, age, geography, social preferences (share/not share) and goal setting behaviour, RunKeeper have been able to see patterns at a population scale around the world, patterns that they are using to improve the lives of their users. During the interview, Jason talked about how RunKeeper is “serving the human good”, “empowering people to self-manage between doctor visits” and encouraging people to “live better lives day in and day out”. He also talked about it potentially being a valuable source of data for physicians to provide better care for their patients in the future. While at present, there are a number of privacy walls there to protect people, he appeared confident that they could be overcome while still protecting users.

Jason talked about a wealth of interest from organisations wishing to partner with RunKeeper in order to create innovative user experiences; this included discounts towards gym memberships, subscriptions to fitness magazines, fitness retailers and loyalty programs based on user activity levels. Specifically, he talked about the partnership between RunKeeper and Pebble in which they are offering users a $25 discount off a pebble watch if they run more than 5km between now and the start of the 2014 Boston marathon. However, he stated that RunKeeper is taking their time to "test the waters and refine the model" and "only as confidence levels go up they will look to expand the number of partners". He went on to say "we don't measure ourselves on the quantity of partnerships but the quality of experience of the users".

As RunKeeper's data analytics capability evolves and access to a wider pool of user data becomes available, not only through the continued collection of data created by the mobile phone, but potentially data from wearable sensors, social, health and medical data sources, RunKeeper could evolve into your own personal health and fitness coach. It could learn how best to motivate you to reach your fitness goals, avoid injury, reduce rehabilitation time or simply live an active and engaged life.

Health is only one of a number of areas that will benefit from the Quantified Self movement. As we expand the scope of analysis from a single data lake owned by an organisation to multiple data lakes across organisations, we move into an area where the privacy laws may be as challenging as the privacy preserving data analytics techniques organisations will need to employ. The benefits of overcoming these challenges are clear not just for organisations but also for the growing global population that are looking for ways to live richer, more empowered lives.